Saturday, February 4, 2017

Hustle in the Seventies


THE MONKEY HUSTLE-1976-Big Daddy Fox (Yaphet Kotto) is a hustler/con man/thief in Philly. He recruits/corrupts some street kids. All the characters talk jive and only think about money. Fox's girlfriend runs the local restaurant. Caught in the middle is Win (Randy Brooks) the older brother of one of Fox's young “students”. A side plot concerns the local community protesting the bulldozing of the neighborhood. Later Fox teams up with local con man Glitterin' Goldie (the always outrageously dressed Rudy Ray Moore) to stop the construction. 

This too hip for itself “blaxploitation” film was directed by Arthur Marks (not Groucho's son) but it's not nearly as entertaining as his previous outing J. D.'S REVENGE. 

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Simon

SIMON-1980-Some brilliant but twisted geniuses (including Max Wright, William Finley and Wallace Shawn) manipulate the USA fixing TV ratings, creating diseases, doing bizarre research on cross breeding a man with a cockroach and talking about a Nixon substitute who came back from China. They get a lot of info from a computer named Doris (the voice of Louise Lasser) and are kind of like forerunners of modern day computer hackers. They decide to create “an alien” using eccentric college professor Simon Mendolssohn (Alan Arkin) as their guinea pig. Through drugs and a sensory deprivation tank and the help of a phony female doctor (Madeline Kahn) they manage to change him. After he becomes a media sensation with his ego driven demands for making a better world, the group try to destroy him but only wind up losing their intellect to a gas that makes them dumb, dispensed by an Army general (Fred Gwynne). Dr. Becker (Austin Pendleton) the head of the institute wants to kill Simon but he winds up trapped on a rocket-ship headed into space! Simon and his wife (Judy Graubart) run away and are taken in by a religious cult that worships TV. He starts his own pirate network and delivers a crazy philosophy (He's right about many things!). 

This is a great but overlooked black comedy criticizing TV and the obsession with junk culture co-written and directed by Marshall Brickman, a former head writer of THE TONIGHT SHOW who wrote several Woody Allen films (SLEEPER, ANNIE HALL, MANHATTAN) . Dick Cavett and David Susskind play themselves.

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hammer Werewolf


THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF-1961-In Spain in the 1700's a beggar (Richard Wordsworth) is mocked and imprisoned by the local marquis (Anthony Dawson). He languishes for years in a dungeon with his only human contact being the jailer's mute daughter (Yvonne Romaine) who grows up before his eyes. When she rejects the now decrepit zombie look marquis he has her thrown in the same dungeon as the old beggar. He rapes her and later she kills the marquis (quite viciously). She runs away and is taken in my a kindly aristocrat Alfredo (Clifford Evans) and his maid. The girl gives birth to a baby boy but dies. Unfortunately the baby was born on Christmas and according to the maid an unwanted child born on the 25th is an insult to God. When the boy named Leon is baptized thunder sounds and the holy water swirls. A few years later Leon has nightmares and fangs and seems to kill sheep at night although a wild dog is blamed. He grows into a man (Oliver Reed) and leaves home. He gets a job bottling wine and meets Christina (Catherine Feller). They fall in love but while out partying with a co-worker Leon turns into a scary werewolf (slightly reminiscent of THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON) and kills the co-worker and a hooker. He's arrested and put in jail where his cellmate becomes a future victim. As a wolf he breaks out, kills some more and the townsfolk go after him. He takes refuge in a church where “dad” shoots a silver bullet through his heart. 

 This Technicolor Hammer production released in the US though Universal International was directed by the great Terence Fisher and written by Anthony Hinds who teamed several times for Hammer. It's based on a novel by Guy Endore  

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Phillippines

BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA-1973-In a Philippines jail “black mama” Lee Daniels (Pam Grier), a hooker and “white mama” Karen Brent (Margaret Markov), a revolutionary fight for survival and try to avoid the lesbian guards. When they are chained together and transferred to a maximum security prison Karen's guerrilla boyfriend and his pals try to rescue her. That fails but the women escape. Chained together they argue and fight. Karen wants to go back to her revolution while Lee wants to catch a boat and get away. They mug two nuns and put on their habits. They get a ride from a friendly drunken truck driver and steal his truck. A drug dealer (Vic Diaz) is also looking for Lee and some money she stole from him. A local police captain (Eddie Garcia) hires a local pool shooting pimp (Sid Haig) to find the girls too. Meanwhile the “female defiant ones” kill the blacksmith who could have unchained them and beat up an innocent guy and steal his boat. They are rescued by Karen's boyfriend (until then it seems like they are in two separate movies). An all out battle between the revolutionaries and the drug dealer's gang caps the finale where Karen is killed and Daniels escapes on a boat with the drug dealer's money (he's killed in the battle). 

AIP released this Philippines shot adventure movie in the US during the big boom period for this kind of production. It was directed by Eddie Romero who had previously made several notorious horror movies with John Ashley (including MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND) and THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (also with Pam Grier). A few years after this was made co-star Margaret Markov retired from acting and married producer/actor Mark Damon.  

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Carry On


CARRY ON SCREAMING-1966-A boisterous but dumb detective Sgt. Bung (Harry Corbett) investigates the disappearance of a young woman (actually abducted by a monster). The woman's naive boyfriend Potter (Jim Dale; a "Carry On" regular who was in several recent "Harry Potter" movies) and Bung's stupid assistant Slobotham ("Carry On" regular Peter Butterworth) help out. They find the severed finger of the monster which eventually leads them to a castle where a “Vampira” looking woman Valeria Watt (Fanella Fielding) resides with her foppish brother Orlando (Kenneth Williams; a "Carry On" regular) turning woman into mannequins. Their monster servant is Oddbod (Tom Clegg), a square headed hairy dude with fangs (fairly scary for the juvenile story line). When an old scientist (Jon Pertwee) conducts an experiment with the finger it creates another Oddbod. Valeria seduces Bung and turns him into a werewolf but when he goes to terrorize his dumpy wife (Joan Sims) she gets the better of him. In typical English fashion Sobotham later disguises himself as a woman which leads Bung's wife into thinking he's having an affair. They all wind up in the castle being chased by the two Oddbods until Potter is turned into a werewolf and thrashes both monsters (obviously dummies when he throws them out a window). Orlando is killed by a mummy he accidentally revives. 

This horror-comedy by the “Carry On” troupe (number 12 in the series and the last for their long time studio Anglo-Amalgamated) is pretty dated and childish. Apparently they didn't know much about horror films. If it's suppose to be a take-off on a Hammer production then it's a real failure! 

 Director Gerald Thomas did most of the series.Vampire actress Fanella Fielding was a loudspeaker voice on the TV show "The Prisoner" the next year. Top billed Corbett later co-starred in the BBC series "Steptoe and Son" the basis for America's "Sanford and Son".


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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Atwill


BEGGARS IN ERMINE-1934-Steel works industrialist Flint Dawson (Lionel Atwill) loves his work so much he always has lunch with his factory employees. He's against a merger so board director Jim Marley (Jameson Thomas) plots to do away with him. He has molten steel dropped on Dawson but it doesn't kill him, only leaving him cripple. Mrs. Dawson (Astrid Allwyn) was in on it too and she and Marley steal everything and go to England with Dawson's young daughter. 

In the hospital (where he smokes a pipe constantly) Dawson meets Marchant, a blind beggar (Henry B. Walthall) who he teams up with and forms an organization of beggars who's money he wisely invests to help them live. Years later Dawson's daughter (Betty Furness), who he's taken care of anonymously, is engaged to Marley's nephew (James Bush) after Mrs. Dawson committed suicide. Eventually through stock manipulations and help from the beggars Dawson gets his revenge (he kind of makes Marley commit suicide) and wins back his company. Very cheap Monogram picture worth seeing for Atwill. 

Russian born director Phil Rosen (a founding member of the American Society of Cinematographers) was a well regarded silent film director but in the sound era he worked mainly in cheap independent films. He made THE SPHINX another curious low budget film with Atwill the year before. Later he made PHANTOM OF CHINATOWN starring Keye Luke, SPOOKS RUN WILD with Lugosi and The East Side Kids and several Charlie Chan entries. He died in 1951. Screenwriter Tristram Tupper , who also wrote the non-horror Karloff vehicle NIGHT KEY, based his screenplay on a novel by Esther Lynd Day.  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Bud & Lou & The Noose


THE NOOSE HANGS HIGH-1948-Two inept window washers Ted (Bud Abbott) and Tubby (Lou Costello) visit a dentist to take care of Tubby's bad tooth. The nearsighted dentist (Murray Leonard) gives Tubby a pretty hard time but does pull the tooth and manages to crash Tubby  through the ceiling where his head winds up in the floor of a psychiatrist (Fritz Feld) who faints.

A mobster named Nick Craig (Joseph Calleia) mistakes the duo for messengers and dispatches them to pick up 50 thousand dollars from bookie Mr. Stewart (Ben Weldon) who plans to double cross them but Tubby hears them talking on an inter-com. To escape the two thugs sent after them Tubby comes up with a plan to have the money sent by mail but he gets the envelopes mixed up. They have to stay over night at Craig's office which leads to a variation on the team's "pack/un-pack" routine and also to hoodwink a dumb thug (Mike Mazurki) out of some money. Craig needs the 50 thousand dollars to pay off a debt to the mysterious Mr. McBride (Leon Errol). The money falls into the hands of Carol (Cathy Downs) the beleaguered assistant to a complaining old bag Mrs. Van Buren (Isabel Randolph).

The "boys" steal the mailing list and comb the city for the person who got the money. They find Carol but unfortunately she's spend most of loot. Carol suggests they bet what little money they have on a horse she  heard McBride is betting on (it's said he never loses). However unbeknown to them McBride changes his bet. Later Tubby meets McBride which leads to some funny moments together (including the "mudder-fodder" routine). The duo then figure the best place to be is in jail so they try to get arrested but no matter what they do they can't. They then decide to order a huge meal at an expensive restaurant and when they can't pay for it they'll go to jail. The "mustard" routine shows up. Fortunately McBride comes to their rescue just before Craig gives them "cement galoshes".

THE NOOSE HANGS HIGH is sometimes overlooked in the Abbott and Costello filmography. It was the team's first foray into independent production. They throw in several funny routines and having Leon Errol (who was also busy making his own short films at RKO) in the cast doesn't hurt. Luckily they hired Charles Barton to direct and having worked with A & C more than anyother director, he keeps everything tight and together. The team made two pictures for Universal the same year: the  so-so MEXICAN HAYRIDE and their classic ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (both directd by Barton!).

There's a whole slew of writers credited with the screenplay and story (not surprising on an A & C production) including their usual collaborator John Grant and Daniel Taradash who later wrote the screenplay for FROM HERE TO ENTERNITY. Female lead Cathy Downs years later played Mrs. Glen Manning in THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN.

There's small un-credited bits by many familair character actors: Elvia Allman, Ellen Corby, Jimmie Dodd (future composer of "The Mickey Mouse March"), James Flavin, Bess Flowers, Joe Kirk (Costello's brother in law), Minerva Urecal, Herb Vigran.

Thanks for reading!